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How to Recognize (and Correct) Enabling Behavior

Giving someone non-specific help

  • Our loved ones often come to us in a moment of crisis. They're losing their job or need to pay someone back. We sometimes feel we have to give money or bail them out in some form. But after a time or two, you become the consistent rescuer while they continue in their unaccountable ways.
  • Boundaries can be used to stop the cycle, but not letting those boundaries slip is hard. If you put your foot down on not loaning money, don't give in. The person you're trying to help will ultimately feel more secure if they know you keep your word. You're also a good role model for consistent behavior.

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How to Recognize (and Correct) Enabling Behavior

How to Recognize (and Correct) Enabling Behavior

https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-savvy-psychologist/202007/how-recognize-and-correct-enabling-behavior

psychologytoday.com

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Key Ideas

Helping a loved one

Many people try to help a loved one make significant life changes but fail. They may try to help a spouse quit smoking or get a roommate out of an abusive relationship. They may feel that if they don't help, the person will come to ruin.

Instead of helping, they are engaged in enabling behaviors such as lying and covering for them or threatening to leave but not doing it.

Different forms of enabling behavior

Enabling may accidentally happen when you are trying to help, but after an extended period, you realise that you are really helping.

  • Cleaning up after someone is one form of enabling behavior and includes any way of protecting the person from the negative consequences of their own behavior.
  • A partner lies to his in-laws about his wife's drug problem to protect her from embarrassment.
  • A sibling pays his brother's rent because he regularly loses his money to gambling.

It might be okay if it happened once, but if these "rescues" happen repeatedly, they don't get to learn from the cause-and-effect pattern of their behaviors.

Shaming someone and making excuses

It's easy to get frustrated when a loved one keeps damaging themselves. This frustration can make us guilt-tripping them. But shaming someone seldom works.

When it doesn't work, we may start to make excuses for them to explain their problem away. This won't help either.

How to productively help someone

We cannot control another person's behavior nor change it.

  • Once you understand that, let go of judgments and accept the person. Give them space to share their thoughts and feelings. It doesn't mean you condone their behavior, but you can respect their feelings.
  • Hold them accountable without shaming or guilt-tripping. Encourage them to set goals and ask what they need from you to hold them responsible.
  • Celebrate successes with them. It will strengthen trust between you and give them permission to feel good about themselves.
  • Provide reasonable logistical support and assist in a plan to help them climb out of their circumstances.

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The savior complex
The savior complex

It is defined by the constant need to try and save people by solving their problems. You have this syndrome, if:

  • you feel attracted by vulnerable individuals
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The "savior

Trying to save the others might prove an extremely exhausting goal for the savior. Among the negative effects that this savior syndrome can have:

  • having a burnout 
  • breaking the relationship with the person you are trying to save
  • once you realize you cannot actual save anybody else but you, a feeling of frustration might emerge.
Fighting the savior syndrome

In order to overcome the savior complex:

  • practice active listening rather than active helping
  • talk to the person in need in order to find common ground rather than putting in place your own solution
  • remember that you are in control only of your own life
  • make sure your need to help the others doesn't come from an unsolved personal problem.

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Starting vs breaking a habit

The process of stopping bad habits is fundamentally different from forming new ones.

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Progressive extremism

The process of “progressive extremism” utilizes what we know about the psychology of identity to help stop behaviors we don’t want. It works particularly well in situations in which substituting one habit for another just won’t do.

Identity helps us make otherwise difficult choices by offloading willpower. Our choices become what we do because of who we are.

"Don’t" vs "Can’t"

By classifying specific behaviors as things you will never do again, you put certain actions into the realm of “I don’t” versus “I can’t.”

Saying “I don’t” rather than “I can’t” provides greater “psychological empowerment.”

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Name your limits

You can’t set good boundaries if you’re unsure of where your limits are.

Identify what you can permit and accept and what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed.

Tune into your feelings

There are two key feelings that are red flags that you are letting go of your boundaries.

  • Discomfort. Ask yourself what is causing the discomfort.
  • Resentment. Resentment usually comes from being taken advantage of or not appreciated.
Be direct

With some people, maintaining healthy boundaries doesn’t require a direct and clear-cut dialogue.

There are other times you might need to be frank, such as with those who have a different personality or cultural background.

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